Home > Personal Ponderings, Tunisian Life > Ennui Musings on the Absence of Change

Ennui Musings on the Absence of Change

Today is a day where I have nothing to say but a desire to type. Not being challenged at work makes me dry! And also, not being surrounded by people who challenge me makes me dry. I think that’s what I miss most about the US of A. Vibrant curiosity. 

There’s a Greek proverb that says ‘Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.’ I feel that people here don’t wonder enough. A part of that comes from the intensity of internet padlocking, another part of it comes from the work reality where you do not ask questions, and a final part of it comes from the culture- change is analogous to sloth.

The cultural component of anti-change became apparent during the Presidential Elections this fall. I was with my boss Hager having lunch in La Marsa after a shopping fit. Litt men dressed green clothing scampered about everywhere, handing out flyers for the current president, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. I was naturally fascinated. I asked Hager who the other candidates were. She didn’t know. I asked her what the incumbent’s platform was. She didn’t know. I asked her why she wasn’t interested. I know she didn’t know even that, but after hefty reflection she says,  (and I paraphrase because I can’t remember word for word) “We have a saying in Tunisia. It is better to keep what you have  then go for change because what comes next could be worse”. 

While other countries thrive on globalization, change flurries are going to be this country’s achilles heel.

One thing I’ve always found interesting is the way the micro magnifies onto the macro. Sybel underwent a strike within this first month I was here and way the strike played out clearly illustrated micro workings for me. It all started when Elyes went off on a swearing rampage and made the grave mistake of insulting all the technician’s mothers. The technicians refused to come back to work the next untill he apologized, which he didn’t, and from there- long story made short- things escalated into a full blast list of demands.  Working hours, job tasks, pay, respect, holidays, health care, safety standards, yada yada yada. It really mirrored the way strikes pan out in the US actually. (Inherent solidarity amongst the international working class case study material if i do say so myself. )

In a way, it’s amusing that I majored in Industrial and Labor Relations, but I had nothing much to offer for ameliorating the warfare that was going on each day at the office. This was partly due to the cultural complexity of it all, partly due to the fact that I was too new to embroil myself in it. To me, things could have been resolved quite easily: communication and more organized work processe. The fact that neither camp was even mentioning the obvious indicated to me that I am not going to be of use here.

Still, I decided to point out some tried and tested OB principles.  Elyes nodded seriously, grunted a few times, then said, ” You know, I would like to, but the culture won’t allow. The only way we can bring change in the work processes is if we find a European technician to work with them whicch will change their attitude. Without that, things cannot change. Hmm, can you start looking for a European technician?”. 

Whether you’d like to call it horrible reasoning or an easy defeat, either way, his logic by deduction led towards an impossible solution. This was the seminal point when I became aware of the built in apathy and fear of experimentalism. In the end, Ben Ali’s henchmen intervened and put everything straight. The truism “it takes a generation to create, a generation to maintain, and a generation to destroy” is moot for Tunisia. Thanks to the demi-dictator, Tunisians have been coasting along for over a generation, happy yes-mans to Ben Ali’s decrees and in effect, malleable pawns for his growth vision. Top-downism like I never knew!  

Most of us @ interns have noticed how our Tunisian friends are awfully coddled in a fabricated bubble. Could this be why Tunisians are quick to put up their nose to foreign food? Or grow hot over critiques about modernization? Or turn quizzical when we start chatting about the latest? Could it be they are immature because they don’t/can’t wonder? All work and no play may make Jack a dull boy, but the absence of change makes him duller.

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